Over the last year, when they haven’t been spending their time on a death-spiraling economy and a historic presidential election, journalists have been trying very hard to make us all understand one thing: It sucks right now to be a journalist.
Two Sundance documentaries this year deal not so much with the craptastic world of trying to make a living in the news media, but with why journalists should be considered vital to our world’s well-being. The American Competition documentary Reporter follows New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winner Nicholas Kristof on his latest crusade: attempting to bring international attention to ongoing war in the Congo that, in Kristof’s words, remains “one big massive gang war.” It’s certainly inspiring watching Kristof take his life into his hands as he meets with a Tutsi warlord named Nkunda – discovering in the process that Nkunda is also a minister. But director Eric Daniel Metzgar doesn’t really have a filmmaking point of view other than watching Kristof on his various rounds. You get the sense that he’s kind of stretching his material when he includes virtually the entirety of Kristof’s appearance on The Colbert Report. And amusing though it may be, those sequences further the cause of fake comedy-journalism more than the cause of actual journalism.
Somewhat more compelling in a similar vein is Burma VJ, director Anders Ostgergaard’s paean to the Burmese citizen videographers whose amateur footage of 2007 protests against the military government – smuggled out of the country by satellite to Norway – allowed the world a chance to see the isolated nation in turmoil. Ostergaard acknowledges at the outset re-creating scenes of our narrator, who goes by the alias “Joshua,” wrangling the work of his various men on the street, and the device proves occasionally distracting. It’s hard, however, to shake the power of the actual footage: including the assassination of a Japanese journalist in the street and the videographers’ attempts after one protest to scramble for safety. We need brave, intrepid journalists to tell the world’s hard stories, but we also need good cinematic storytellers to do justice to their efforts. (Scott Renshaw)